Tuesday, May 8, 2018

RETURN TO BATTLE Volume Two Excerpt 2

Visit to Volgograd 
The Friendship Society soon learned of our interest in, and concern for the hundreds of children and their families. This was well before the cyberspace era of inter-connected  § and information difficult to unearth and expose. .We began the cumbersome process of seeking and tracking resources relating to this shameful episode of medical malpractice. And, as material on the tragedy became available, all from credible Russian sources, my visits to Dr Voronin’s clinic became more frequent. The promised support began arriving from the nearby SA territories of Sweden, Great Britain and Norway, with assurances of support from New Zealand, Canada and the USA.
         Dr. Voronin became convinced that the Army could better comprehend and provide even more important assistance by meeting with the medical staff and mothers in Volgograd and we began planning a 3 day exploratory visit.
         Dr. Voronin flew with my wife and me 3 weeks later to meet with the parents of children in Hospital Number 7 (21) suffering with AIDS. 
         We were met at the airport by three white-clad female Doctors, all wearing the chef-style hat worn by all Russian medical doctors, with our ‘limo’ waiting at the curb. We clamored into an aging, beat-up ambulance for the 25 - minute ride to the clinic. We were seated, hunched over, on the somewhat shaky ambulance stretchers in the rear bay.
         I met with the mothers. The arduous task of explaining the disease and its inevitable consequence was assigned to me.
I read from the Scriptures and spoke briefly about life after death, and how infants and toddlers at death go straight into the arms of Jesus. My translator looked at me hesitatingly – I gave an assured smile and she continued- I shared that there was at the present time no cure; all the children faced a very certain future. The all female staff and mothers wept openly. We then prayed together, and before leaving promised SA assistance with a return visit in December.
         A few days subsequent to our return to Leningrad I went to the Friendship Society to share our Volgograd impressions. Later that morning a gentleman from America was introduced to Kathie and me, and over coffee, traditional Russian teacakes and chocolate, we learned that he was Gerd Ludwig, an internationally acclaimed National Geographic magazine photographer. 
         Gerd had recently arrived in Russia and the FS was his official Russian host. The magazine sent Gerd to Russia to begin his series of stories that would become The Broken Empire; “His own life experiences shaping his approach – ‘adding’ a mix of documentary and editorial drive - to his assignments.”[1]
He was in essence freelancing, searching for a pictorial summary of life in post-Soviet Union Russia. Gerd asked if we’d run into any unique stories that might interest readers in the west. We shared several stories of interest we’d encountered in Leningrad. Gerd expressed an immediate interest in the infected toddler’s HIV story. In that we had just returned from Volgograd the stories shared were crisp, alive and compelling.
         Gerd asked if we had plans to re-visit Volgograd, and might he be allowed to join with us. I told him that a Christmas party was being organized by Kathie and i would seek, “Dr Voronin’s approval, but expected no objections.

Christmas 1991 Volgograd
Gerd Ludwig shares impressions from the Volgograd visit -“There are other instances of singular acts having long ranging effects. He recalls, In 1992, at Hospital 21 in Volgograd, I witnessed the human impact of bad health care - and I experienced one of the most shocking and poignant moments of my career. 
I attended a Christmas party organized by The Salvation Army for about 50 of the doomed children and their families. For some of the victims, this would be their last Christmas. The adults sat with tears in their eyes as the children played and laughed and opened their gifts, innocent of their fate.”
         He has not always met with this kind of ingenuousness. When the curtain came down in Russia there was this moment of brief openness, when people were willing to show you what had happened for the last 150 years. But after that, there was the backlash; people ceased wanting to show you. But he did what he could no matter the political climate. Gorbachev's glasnost enabled him to begin the journey of separating the political system from the people and capture a different, more complete vision from the one I had been focused on for so long. Then after the 1991 coup he was faced with a new challenge; to define the new Russia. I had two avenues to explore: the transformation of a society from a state-controlled to a market economy at manic speed; and the social and economic conditions that had prevailed for generations, hidden from outside eyes.
         The majority of children born to mothers living with HIV in Russia are essentially orphaned, even if their parents are still alive.
   While working on Broken Empire he shot between 15,000 and 20,000 images. The project earned him what is known as the Oscar in photography circles; Photographer of the Year at the Lucie Awards. It is a project that was years in the making and which chronicles Ludwig’s dismissal of all evidence of the Soviet Union's repressive government as Western propaganda. His visit to Volgograd enabled Ludwig to find focus in a complex motive; ‘the extraordinarily resonant image of the schism between rich and poor in Russia at the time.’[2]

[1]McNally, Greer Interview with Gerd Ludwig Photography Blog Newsletter

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